Lewis Hamilton claimed a thrilling first victory of 2011 for McLaren as he chased down championship leader Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull in China.

Hamilton made one more stop than Vettel and made his fresh tyres work as he passed Vettel with four laps to go.

Button was denied third place on the penultimate lap as Mark Webber staged a brilliant comeback from 18th place on the grid to deny the Englishman.

Hamilton had joined Button in passing Vettel with a brilliant getaway off the line but lost position in the first round of stops.

But Hamilton stuck to his three-stop plan and used his fresh tyres to work his way past Button, Felipe Massa's Ferrari and the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg before he set to work eating into Vettel's lead.

The 2008 world champion comfortably passed Vettel in the dying stages of a dramatic grand prix to move 21 points behind the German in the championship.

Hamilton, whose victory was even more impressive because McLaren had to work furiously on his car to get it to the grid in time because of a fuel leak, said: "I think today the strategy we came up with definitely helped.

"My new option tyres seemed to last longer. The pit stops were fantastic.

"The car felt great and I was trying to nurse my tyres while picking up pace. It was one of the best races I've experienced."

BBC F1 commentator David Coulthard said: "What a controlled comeback.

"It was a fantastic drive. He controlled his emotions and bounced back from a difficult race in Malaysia not to mention pre-season testing.

"I think Hamilton is really overcome with emotion too."

After straightforward victories in Australia and Malaysia, Vettel had to work hard to hang on to second place as he just could not eke out enough performance from the hard tyres.

Vettel explained: "We came out in the lead and then I think we tried too hard to stay on two stops.

"I saw Lewis coming closer and there was no point defending too hard - he found his way past.

"We did a couple of mistakes but still finished second so I'm very happy with that. We can learn a lot today."

In contrast, his team-mate Webber displayed his characteristic grit to fight back from 18th on the grid to snatch his first podium of the season.

Yet more problems with the power-boost Kers system and electrical issues meant the Australian had to battle his way through the backmarkers.

But Webber used his superior race pace and his three sets of soft tyres to deny Button on the 55th lap of the race.

Webber said: "It was an interesting GP. We started on hard tyres, got that out of the way.

"It wasn't easy. To still see P17 after 15 laps you think - 'when is it going to come'.

"It was a good day for racing (with Lewis winning) and a good day in terms of points for the team."

Chinese Grand Prix result:
1. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault
3. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault
4. Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
5. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP
6. Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari
7. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari
8. Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP
9. Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Renault
10. Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber

Championship standings:
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault 68 pts
2. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 47
3. Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 38
4. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 37
5. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 26
6. Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari 24
7. Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Renault 17
8. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Renault 15
9. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 10
10. Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber 7

Constructors' championship:
1. Red Bull-Renault 105 pts
2. McLaren-Mercedes 85
3. Ferrari 50
4. Renault 32
5. Mercedes GP 16

Full report: BBC Sport